Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Reality hits Lightning; Stamkos birthday milestone

NEWARK, N.J. — The Lightning has lost two straight one-goal games to foes determined to forecheck, swarm in the defensive zone and play physically.

In other words, as coach Guy Boucher has preached since training camp: This is not going to be easy.

For a time it seemed almost too easy. Tampa Bay started 6-1-0 with a league-best 37 goals. Since then it has three goals total in losses to the Rangers and Flyers, and third-period mistakes that cost games.

"You have to go out and earn it every night, and I don't think we've done that the last two games," right wing Marty St. Louis said Wednesday. "Did we play bad? No. Did we go out and try to earn the win? No, we didn't.

"It's not for lack of effort, but we have to be better."

That's quite a different tone from the team's rip-roaring start, during which it benefited from what St. Louis called a "perfect storm." The Lightning played six of its first eight games at home. Three teams were playing the second of back-to-back games. The Lightning faced three backup goalies, got 35 power-play chances and scored on 13.

But against the Rangers and Flyers, the intensity and level of play were raised, and the Lightning didn't quite measure up.

In both games, third-period gaffes led to winning goals. Tuesday against the Flyers, right wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie got caught in the offensive zone, sparking a Philadelphia three-on-two that defensemen Keith Aulie and Brian Lee did not defend well and goalie Anders Lindback failed to stop.

"Not awful mistakes," Boucher said, "but mistakes that a team makes when not mature enough to deal with those tight games."

Tampa Bay also had a season-low 22 shots, went 0-for-4 with two shots on the power play and did not bury scoring chances.

This isn't to put it all on the Lightning. As Boucher said, "There's an opponent on the other side, and they're good, too."

Still, "we have to be a team that is comfortable with a 1-0, 1-1, 2-2 games. As we go along, that's what it's going to be."

A few more shots on goal wouldn't hurt. Tampa Bay has been outshot in five of nine games and all three on the road. Center Steven Stamkos said players "have been guilty of making an extra play or an extra pass." That hasn't helped a road power play that is 1-for-13.

"Our power play is good when we have movement and we have shots," Boucher said. "When we have no movement, we have no shots. You can stay in there for two minutes if you want and pass to each other while the other guys are reading the newspapers, they're ain't going to be no goals."

Perhaps the worst thing for the Lightning was the 8-3 rout of the Jets on Feb. 1. That kind of game is fun, Boucher said, but dangerous because "you can get the feeling you're very powerful offensively and things are going to come."

Not that it necessarily happened to Tampa Bay.

"We know we're not going to score five, six, seven goals a game," Aulie said.

But the team hasn't won since, and things won't get easier against the Devils tonight.

"There's no panic, but there's urgency," Stamkos said. "We have to find a way to win these close one-goal games. It's more indicative of playoff hockey."

And that kind of hockey never is easy.

CROMBEEN UPDATE: Right wing B.J. Crombeen, who left Tuesday's game after his first-period fight with the Flyers' Zac Rinaldo, is cleared to play. It was unclear if he would be in the lineup against the Devils.

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